Our loving, generous father and a decorated military veteran, Lt. Col. (USAF ret.) Walter N. Hedges of West Columbia, SC passed away peacefully at his home on Aug. 4, 2023. Col. Hedges was born May 31, 1924 in South Hampton, New York to Norman Church Hedges and Lulu Blanche Fanning Hedges. In 1926 the family purchased a farm in Sussex County where Col. Hedges attended Sycamore School and was a graduate of Laurel High School, class of 1942. In addition to a long military career, Col. Hedges attended Johns Hopkins University, earned a BS from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1960 and received a Master’s in Education from the University of South Carolina in 1975.

As a 10-year-old picking strawberries on the family farm early one morning, Walter Hedges decided his destiny was elsewhere when an armada of military planes flew overhead on their way to a Memorial Day celebration. He “figured” those pilots were having much more fun than he was. Upon his high school graduation, with letters of recommendation and a clean bill of health he was sworn in as a Private in the Reserve Corp in November of 1942. Col. Hedges was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Corps on January 30, 1943. By November of 1944 he was a P-51 Mustang pilot with the Mighty 8th Air Force, 361st Fighter Group, 374th Fighter Squadron. He flew 40 combat missions over Europe for which he was awarded the Air Medal for exceptional meritorious service. Two of his lasting memories were crash landing in a cabbage patch in Belgium and escorting his brother Nathan, a gunner in the 392nd Bomb Group, as Nathan flew his 30th and final mission of WWII.  Col. Hedges served in World War II, twice in the Korean War and in Vietnam. In Korea he developed new radar techniques for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. In his 32+ years military career, Col. Hedges served as a pilot, electronics instructor, Avionics officer, squadron commander, and Chief of Maintenance at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Viet Nam. His final assignment was at Shaw Air Force Base where he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding performance as Assistant Director of Maintenance and Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics for the Ninth Headquarters.  Col. Hedges retired from Shaw Air Force Base in 1974 and moved his family to West Columbia.

Walter Hedges embarked on a second career with the South Carolina Energy Office. He conducted energy audits through Clemson University and specialized in energy efficient business practices. He taught Management classes at Midland Technical College.

After his second retirement, Col. Hedges returned to farming on a smaller scale. His gardens produced flowers and fresh vegetables for family and neighbors for many years. One year his red potato crop was so bountiful he recruited a Boy Scout troop for harvesting and a food bank for distribution. Col. Hedges also tended to the camellias he and his wife planted. A camellia seedling from his yard was declared a new variety and was recognized as a Noteworthy Camellia by the American Camellia Society in 2020.  He named the new camellia “Pretty One” after his P-51 Mustang.  An article in The Camellia Journal (March 2022) highlights Col. Hedges’ military career and his prized camellia. 

Col. Hedges was an active member of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. He was serving as their President Emeritus at the time of his death. Col. Hedges was a proud supporter of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah, Ga. He contributed an oral history of his time in WWII, a copy of his memoir, “From Farm Boy to Fighter Pilot,” as well as numerous mementos and signed photographs. He was interviewed for the national Veterans History Project. A personal narrative of his WWII experience can be found in the Walter Norris Hedges Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Col. Hedges could fix anything with duct tape and WD40; predict the weather, as well as the timing of red lights and served as an “artifact” guest speaker at many school events with grandchildren.  Conserving water and electricity and recycling were his life-long passions. He was a fan of Braves baseball, the USC Gamecocks and the History Channel.

In addition to his parents Col. Hedges was predeceased by his wife of 49 years, Eunice Kirby Hedges; his sisters Lillian H. Wootten and Theresa H. Murray; his brothers Dayton, Norman and Nathan Hedges; and his son-in-law, Russell Larimore.

He is survived by his six daughters: Mary H. Mason (Wallace) of Gulfport, MS; Susan H. Brooks (Tom) of Hilton Head, SC; Jane Ellen Hedges of Greenville, SC; Patty H. Larimore of West Columbia, SC; Nancy H. Addison (Clay) of Lyman, SC; and Joan H. Yacobi of Lexington, SC; his sister Mary Louise H. Janosik of Laurel and brother-in-law Col. (US Army ret.) Ernest R. Kirby of Columbia, SC.  He is also survived by nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Col. Hedges will be put to rest at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery, Columbia, South Carolina.

Col. Hedges wished for memorials in his honor be made to the Laurel Alumni Association, P.O. Box 382, Laurel, Delaware 19956-0381.